Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Am I Too White, Able-Bodied, Straight And Male To Be An Intersectionalist?

The answer, of course, is a huge 'no'!

I'm just one white, able-bodied, straight male (I might add cis-gendered to the list provided by Zoe Williams' terrible article in The Guardian). My opinion shouldn't matter that much. Except that according to those supposedly most worried about dividing what they call 'the left', I shouldn't exist. Because I love intersectionality, 'despite' having all that privilege. Privilege checking has become a reflex over the last few years. The reason is in two 'intersecting' parts: 1) I don't want to oppress anyone if I can possibly help it, and 2) I need a revolution to secure my own material well-being, for which I need comrades, and intersectionality can help with that.

Over the past week or so, the online world has exploded into argument over intersectionality. This was sparked when New Statesman deputy editor Helen Lewis was revealed to have storified tweets made by a proponent of intersectionality, who had made mistaken allegations against historian Mary Beard back in January. The individual had then removed the tweets and apologised. Beard accepted this apology, but Lewis dug up old ground in an effort to attack this person's reputation. As if on cue, a horde of anonymous followers than started posting vile racist, sexist and ableist abuse.

In the context of all human life, this might seem like a small thing. But it was emblematic of wider social issues. Firstly, the nature of the abuse showed the desperate need for intersectionality, and secondly, Lewis had used her position of - yes - privilege to ad hominem attack someone with a much smaller platform. By flattening the individual, she had hoped to dismiss a cause she had railed against in the past.

It is easy to see why intersectionality would be seen as a threat by those paid by the establishment to be court 'lefts'. These media liberals often make money writing about one form of oppression - patriarchy in the case of Lewis, and socio-economic class in the case of Owen Jones, who leapt to Lewis' defence on Twitter. Williams used The Guardian website to chime in with a total misrepresentation of both 'Beardgate' and intersectionality itself.

However it is important and all to the good that media talking heads do feel challenged. Intersectionality is not a silencing tactic - those who complain as such normally have a disproportionately large say anyway, and are merely being told to let others get a word in edgeways. But it is a demand that everyone - no matter how traditionally excluded from political discourse - is given a chance to shape debate and shape the world.

It is no mere coincidence that this most democratic of philosophies has gained traction on Twitter over the last few years. Twitter - notable access issues aside - resembles a mass global parliament in which everyone with internet access can have - at least in theory - an equal say. It is this which most worries the likes of Jones, who yesterday alleged that his opponents "hunt in packs". On some level, he likely feels that his position as 'spokesman of the left' is threatened by such mass participation.

I came to Twitter in the midst of the student uprising against the tripling of tuition fees and the scrapping of EMA. I was mainly interested in this, and class-based responses to the economic crisis. But gradually I learned more about intersectionality, and that 'check your privilege' - far from being something like the insult it is often portrayed as being - means something like 'try seeing it from the persepective of someone who faces struggles that you do not'. Without Twitter - and particularly without the target of Helen Lewis' spite - I don't know how this would have happened.

I'll never be perfect, but I'm now less of a nobhead to people who don't have my privilege than I was. I never meant to be oppressive, I never saw what I was doing, but that's the whole thing about privilege. Multiply my modest results by billions, and if that was all the use that privilege theory and intersectionality could be, it would be enough.

But much, much more than that, it offers away of encouraging people to link up their struggles, of becoming stronger through solidarity, and building a movement that can challenge the whole oppressive system. White men - and it nearly always is white men - who claim that we can deal with racism, sexism and other forms of oppression 'after the revolution' entirely miss the point. Dealing with them is an integral part of the revolution.

As the Anarchist Federation women's caucus described in last year's inspirational pamplet 'The Class Struggle Analysis of Privilege':
"A black, disabled working class lesbian may not necessarily have had a harder life than a white, able-bodied working class straight cis-man, but she will have a much greater understanding of the intersections between class, race, disability, gender and sexuality. The point isn’t that, as the most oppressed in the room, she should lead the discussion, it’s that her experience gives her insights he won’t have on the relevant points of struggle, the demands that will be most effective, the bosses who represent the biggest problem, the best places and times to hold meetings or how to phrase a callout for a mass meeting so that it will appeal to a wider range of people, ways of dealing with issues that will very probably not occur to anybody whose oppression is along fewer intersections. He should be listening to her, not because she is more oppressed than him (though she may well be), but because it is vital to the struggle that she is heard, and because the prejudices that society has conditioned into us, and that still affect the most socially aware of us, continue to make it more difficult for her to be heard, for us to hear her."
In short, the revolution will be intersectional, or it won't happen.
Post a Comment

Disqus for Infantile Disorder